Lessons Learned: Teaching Latinx Teacher Candidates Through Digital Literacy and Community Service Learning

Lessons Learned: Teaching Latinx Teacher Candidates Through Digital Literacy and Community Service Learning

Kathy Bussert-Webb (University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, USA) and Karin A. Lewis (University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9438-3.ch010


The authors focus on digital literacy and community service learning (CSL) strategies from research of Latinx undergraduate teacher candidates (TCs) engaged with technology in CSL courses. The qualitative studies have taken place in a tutorial agency and university classrooms in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, one of the most economically-strapped U.S. regions. The 60 participants were Bussert-Webb's TCs in Summer 2016 and Summer 2017 (n=28) and Lewis's TCs in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 courses (n=32). Data sources include participant observations, surveys, focus groups, lessons, and reflections. Using social justice and New Literacies frameworks and thematic data analysis, the authors discuss four concepts that have influenced their practices: 1) risk-taking is more important than our digital expertise, 2) digital literacy connects to social justice contexts, 3) TCs engage in authentic technology experiences, and 4) technology-infused CSL is provided. Implications relate to closing a three-tier digital divide among Latinx teachers and youth.
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Many believe the digital divide relates only to technology access. Although conceding access barriers, Zinger, Tate, and Warschauer (2017) showed evidence against such a technocentrist perspective (Papert, 1993). Zinger et al. described a tool-focused approach as, “The technological device itself is viewed as the solution to an instructional challenge” (p. 578). Although connected to other digital divides, access represents a primary divide. The secondary divide includes practices (why and how people use technology), while the tertiary divide focuses on academic digital literacy skills, such as online reading comprehension (Henry, 2010, Bussert-Webb & Henry, 2016).

We define digital literacy as “socially situated practices supported by skills, strategies, and stances that enable the representation and understanding of ideas using a range of modalities enabled by digital tools” (O’Brien & Scharber, 2008, pp. 66-67). Technology, which involves applying digital tools, falls under the digital literacy umbrella. We frame instructional technology integration at primary, secondary, and tertiary (university) levels as a literacy issue to increase technology’s power (Leu, O’Byrne, Zawilinski, McVerry, & Everett-Cacopardo, 2009).

Yet, how do we bridge these digital divides at the pre-kindergarten through college levels? As per Zinger et al. (2017), first-order or extrinsic barriers include limited access, scant professional development, time constraints, lack of technical support, and inadequate institutional vision for authentic, inquiry-based technology use (e.g., technology for rewards and rote learning versus inspiring wonder). However, second-order barriers (intrinsic) relate to teachers’ beliefs, efficacy, risk-taking, and socio-cultural knowledge of diverse students. “A resistance to change can undermine innovative technological pedagogy regardless of the number of internet-connected computers in the classroom” (Zinger et al., p. 585). Technological pedagogy combines instructors’ technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge with knowledge of student and classroom contexts (TPACK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009).

Ruggiero and Mong (2015) confirmed these first- and second-order digital barriers in their mixed-methods study of 1048 in-service teachers; however, they found that passionate teachers circumvent extrinsic barriers. See Hennessey, Harrison, and Wamakote (2010) regarding teachers’ intrinsic barriers, including the role of teacher preparation programs.

Thus, providing appropriate TC support is paramount in changing second-order barriers once these teachers-in-training become full-time teachers (Ertmer, 1999). Knowing that teachers-in-training represent our U.S. educational future, this chapter focuses on lessons learned in teaching our TCs to use instructional technology and digital resources for higher-order purposes with youth (Churches, 2008). We also discuss requiring TCs to engage in Community Service-Learning (CSL) involving technology with youth in out-of-school settings. Informal learning environments can reveal much about the teaching profession and can help TCs to gain experience in adapting technology implementation to enhance diverse children’s strengths, needs, interests, and community funds of knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). CSL is a reciprocal, social justice pedagogy and scholarship in which TCs engage in meaningful service and discuss and write reflections connected to course content (Maynes, Hatt, & Wideman, 2013). Our university defines service-learning as,

A thoughtfully organized service experience that addresses a need in the community in a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship and integrates a reflective component that relates the service experience to academic course objectives and the student’s learning (service = learning) University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, n.d., para. 3).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Community Service Learning: A service experience addressing a community need, which is reciprocal and connected to course objectives and student learning.

Digital Literacy: Socially situated practices supported by strategies, skills, and dispositions that enable the understanding and representation of ideas using multimodalities enabled by digital tools.

Latinx: A recent gender neutral, non-binary alternative term for Latino/Latina, meant to affirm all people of Latin American decent. Also, Latinx (versus Hispanic) is used to indicate people who have more affinity toward the Americas than Spain.

Rhizome: Drawing from a metaphor of botanical growth, a rhizome will grow in the opposite direction if presented with an obstacle.

New Literacies: A theory signifying the Internet’s importance and the need for new literacies to unleash the Internet’s potential; social practices, strategies, skills, multimodalities, evaluation, and critique related to digital tools are important.

Colonia: An unincorporated or unannexed Southwestern settlement with high poverty and limited basic services, such as drainage and paved roads.

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